We can have hope about a lot of things… but there is one place where hope will not help; it will get you nowhere. The place I’m speaking of is the past. We can hope for today, in the present. We can hope for our future. But the past? It’s gone. We can’t change it. I was listening to a podcast of a sermon the other day. The topic was forgiveness. It was the kind of sermon that welled up pleasant emotions, and simultaneously punched me in my gut. It was a message I needed to hear. As I listened, one question kept coming to the forefront of my mind: “What would my life look like if I stopped carrying around the burden of the past?”
Not one person in this world is exempt from injury to the soul. We are all bruised and battered, bearing wounds caused by someone else’s words or actions. I’ll bet there are many in the LGBT community who have endured pain and anguish at the hands of others. I’ve been there. Words cut deep. When someone says or does the unthinkable—when our worst fears come true—we can spiral into depression and despair pretty quickly. Hurt turns to anger, anger turns to resentment, and resentment turns to unforgiveness. But we can’t stay there… not if we want to live a fulfilling life. Eventually, in order to move on, we must begin entertaining the idea of forgiveness. Frederick Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, said that “Forgiveness, at its core, is a radical act of self interest.” It frees our spirit. It gives us permission to let go and move on. Forgiveness means that we do not have the “they’ll get theirs” attitude, or wish for the worst to happen to our offender. It’s realizing that we, ourselves, are capable of hurting others in the same way; it’s also realizing that we probably have—and maybe we need to ask forgiveness of someone else. Forgiveness allows us to drop the burden we’ve been carrying.
So if we know what forgiveness is, what are some things it isn’t? It isn’t saying that you approve of what was done to you. It isn’t saying “it’s ok”. It isn’t pretending that you weren’t wounded. It doesn’t mean things go back to the way they were, or that you enter back into an abusive relationship. But it is releasing the power that someone has over you. When we spend days, weeks, months, or even years harboring unforgiveness, the person who committed the offense has control over us—over our thoughts, over our emotions, over our everyday lives. Release the burden. Stop wishing for a better past, and begin hoping for a better future.